Algae: Fuel of the Future?

algae blooms in Finland

Algae blooms along the coast. Photo used by Fair Use.

The global population of humans has seen alarming exponential growth in the past century, which can be largely attributed to the exploitation of our most prized resource: fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are utilized in most facets of human society including agriculture, transportation, clothing and technology. However, with our increasing reliance and use of these non-renewable resources, comes the concern of oil reserve depletion. Peak oil indicates the point in time in which maximum petroleum extraction is reached and, within our modern population, is a concern that this may also be the limiting resource for our species.  In other words, as peak oil is reached and our oil supplies decline, our population numbers will shortly follow. This highlights the importance of exploring alternative petroleum sources that are socially, ecologically and economically sound. In this article, I will address one of the possible alternatives and with that several issues concerning this potential global solution to peak oil.

There has been much research and many publications regarding algal fuels as a potential solution to peak oil concerns, due to their direct petroleum replacement capabilities. However, the economic efficiency and social feasibility continue to be a topic of chief concern. Currently, if produced on a large scale, algal fuels are estimated upwards of $10 per gallon, which, compared to fossil fuels, are not as economically feasible. However, continued research will only decrease these economic figures and with the potential positive ecological and social results, this may be an ideal future prospect.

With regards to the ecological benefits of algal fuels, several are most prominent.  Algal fuels are autotrophic microorganisms that provide a carbon neutral fuel source, which may address concerns of global warming. In a basic sense, algae utilizes CO2 as the carbon building block for hydrocarbon chains (fuel), which takes as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as is released by burning the refined fuels. In comparison to burning fossil fuels, this may result in a more stable atmosphere, which in turn will decrease the amount of abnormal temperature fluctuations globally. These current abnormal temperature fluctuations are a causative agent of global population crashes and more recently have been hypothesized to be a primary reason for the current global extinction epidemic.

It has been observed that, in some locations, oil-drilling sites cause significant negative effects on the surrounding environment. Chemicals released throughout the drilling process as well as anthropogenic fragmentation are concerns for many conservation biologists. Another ecological benefit of algal fuels involves the ability to use sewage water, which is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and used as “fertilizer” for the growing algae. This would decrease the issue of oceanic dead zones caused by sewage disposal along coastal regions and allow those habitats to begin the process of recovery.

Since humans first began to mass-extract fossil fuels, there has been much conflict throughout regions where large oil reserves are present. A shift to algal fuels may reduce social problems currently seen due to fossil fuel extraction. Since algae grow in nearly every region of the earth, in theory, algal fields could be placed in all regions and territories. Furthermore, the highest production would be in regions that have the largest amounts of solar radiation, such as arid desert regions. These arid climates commonly struggle with social conflicts and depressions due to low amounts of fertile land and limited access to clean water. While the amount of water sources for these regions is of concern for algal fields, further research may be able to utilize algal fields as purification ducts, providing economic stability from fuel production and increase water sanitation. After the fuels are extracted, the remaining algae may be used for agricultural purposes, providing a more stable food source.

So while there is much more research that must be completed in order to provide an economically, ecologically and socially sound alternative fuel source, algal fuels appear to be a promising option for the future.

By Drew Walters

Reflections on a Zero Waste New Year’s Resolution

I’ve recently been thinking about my New Year’s Resolution, which is to make as little harmful ecological impact as possible in the year 2013.The resolution is a promise to the world and to myself that I will live as a ‘No Impact Woman’ or at least, a ‘Least Impact Woman.’ For me, this means not buying anything new, not using electricity or other resources beyond my needs, and doing everything in my power to cancel out any negative impacts of my current lifestyle. My original inspiration to take on this resolution came from the book No Impact Man: The Reflections of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries he Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life Along the Way.In this book, author Colin Beaven embarks on a zero waste adventure that most would consider impossible. Yet, after reading this, I decided I would like to try and live as zero waste as possible to see what results would come about. While I do everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint through my daily actions, I have found that it is impossible to fully eliminate it. After all, I am a carbon-based life form and when I die, I will leave an even greater footprint. Still, every action we perform has effects; I will list some of my current lifestyle changes and maybe motivate some folks to take similar steps in their lives.

No Impact Man

In the book, No Impact Man, an ambitious man and his family try to live zero waste lifestyles in the heart of New York City. Photo used by Fair Use.

The first change I made was getting rid of my cell phone. Since this makes my mother concerned for my safety, I keep the phone for emergencies but turn it off at all times so it never needs to be plugged in and waste electricity. I also do not give out my phone number to anyone, even possible job requests and instead give out my email due to the fact that the school computers stay on 24/7, therefore reducing an ecological impact that I have very little control over (unless I was to go around and turn them all off). Also, my friend and I turn off the televisions in the Student Union when we can so that these do not waste energy.

As for food choices, I eat vegan unless food will otherwise be wasted (such as pasta with cheese on someone else’s plate) and, since I have a Sodexo meal plan, I always observe the food choices first so as to not choose food that is most likely packaged or from long distances (such as bananas and coffee). I refrain from drinking tea because of the bag and I bring my reusable water bottle everywhere. I have never tried soda so this is not a beverage I had to give up since I never drank it in the first place.

In addition, I do not buy any products at all and I certainly do not use non-reusable items such as paper coffee mugs and napkins. I also do not buy any clothes (all of my clothes are second hand or from free boxes… I currently put on the FLC Environmental Center Free Store every Thursday, from 9-11 a.m. in the Student Union) and I do not buy any appliances or items unless they are offered to me. I try not to keep lights on during the day and I like to spread environmental awareness to the as many people as I can. Additionally, I try to limit computer use and if there is anything I am doing that is not ecologically sustainable or beneficial, I do my best to stop the habit or action immediately. I do not own a car and when I can, I avoid flying home and try to hitch a ride with a friend. I do not watch any movies or television unless this action may help to make someone else more aware of environmental issues and thus counterbalances the effect of watching the television. I also do not wear makeup due to the terrible effect it has on the environment.

I don’t want people to feel jealous because it doesn’t feel good. When people feel jealous, I have often observed they consume more due to feelings of inadequacy that may come up for them and then they may (depending on the person) go out and consume and waste items more, thus contributing more to the global carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. I also wake up at five in the morning to meditate so as to begin the day with positive aspirations and thoughts. This mindfulness meditation helps keep me aware of how I am impacting others and the environment throughout the day. I also have made a promise to the world and myself that I will remain celibate so as to not have to use condoms (terribly unsustainable) and I don’t want to marry or have kids due to population growth.

In essence, I think anyone can implement any of these zero waste suggestions and make a positive impact on the state of the world.  As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and in fact, we can. Little by little, step-by-step, we can influence a society and culture and rise up as an ecologically aware population at Fort Lewis College through any or all of our efforts.

By Michaela Steiner

The Truth About Hunting

a gun used for hunting deer

Photo used by Fair Use.

The subject of taking an animal’s life can certainly stir a lot of emotion in people, especially some supporters of the present day environmental movement. Infringing upon an animal’s right to life goes against an ethic to leave nature as it is. So, it seems that in order to be a “good” conservationist, a human being must leave nature unscathed, right? Well I’m here to keep those emotions stirred, by saying that this idea is very much WRONG.

Now, by saying some supporters of the conservation movement frown upon hunting certainly does not mean this is the feeling for all. The focus here is more on animal rights activists and those with similar beliefs. The reasons for why animal rights activists have developed their opinions are understandable, mostly a result of extremely evident mistreatment of animals. However, the fact is that people have known for a long time that hunting is a vital relationship between man and nature. For example, having grown up in an area of the world where hunting meant whether or not food would be on the table during the winter months, I learned to respect what nature has provided. For thousands of years, our ancestors relied upon a diet derived from hunting and gathering and for the most part those ancestors understood the importance of our relationship with the wilderness. Utmost respect and homage was paid to the earth and the gifts it provided us with, even when the taking of an animal’s life was involved. Unfortunately, that ethic was largely lost during the shift from gathering our own food to being able to buy it from somebody else.

Nowadays, it is easy to simply drive down to City Market and buy a pound of beef for $3.75 so it is hard to believe there was once a time when humans actually had to work for their food. Being part of the local foods team at the Fort Lewis Environmental Center has given me the opportunity to pursue a goal to reverse human being’s thinking back to what it once was. Hunting as a sustainable practice may sound like an oxymoron to the uneducated mind but to those who understand the importance of having a full freezer, this claim could be attested. Think of the amount of resources conserved by taking one less pound of grass fed, water consuming, packaged and fossil fuel burning (as a result of shipment) beef off of the average U.S. family’s dinner table. Not only can the practice of sustainable hunting benefit the environment but also the wallets of U.S. families.

There are many arguments and variables opposing an opinion like mine, yet the fact still remains that hunting could eventually lead to a stronger local food system in communities all over the world. It is my goal to bring a better understanding of how hunting can be a means of having stable, sustainable and secure means of putting food on the table to the Durango community and similar communities. Is it possible to polarize the two clashing mindsets regarding the ethics of hunting? Like every other progressive idea, it will take time and energy to reach a consensus.

– Hunter Mallinger

My Zero Waste Inspiration

Bea Johnson never takes out the trash. She is not lazy or a hoarder but rather a pioneer in the field of zero waste living. Bea and her family choose to act and purchase in ways that have as little impact on the environment as possible. Beginning with small changes and gradually implementing larger ones, the Johnson family completely changed their way of life over the course of a few years. Bea only buys clothes second hand and repairs or tailors them when needed, fills a reusable container with homemade toothpowder that she uses on her compostable toothbrush and harnesses solar energy to power her family’s house. Claiming to find ways to reduce waste addicting, Bea and her family say their alternative and revolutionary lifestyle has made them much happier.

Before learning about Bea Johnson and her family, I lived my life similar to how they did before they migrated towards zero waste. I took long showers, I threw out things without a second thought and I didn’t consider how my consumption affected the environment. I believed I maintained an eco-friendly lifestyle because I recycled and used an aluminum water bottle but in actuality, I was nowhere close to living green.  On the fateful day I stumbled across an article on Yahoo about the “zero waste family,” I thought about every aspect of the world in a completely new way.

produce in cloth bags

Using cloth bags to purchase produce from the grocery store is more eco-friendly than using disposable plastic ones and some bags even have nice designs. Photo courtesy of Emma Kurfis.

Bea lives by the phrase: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. By applying this motto to every aspect of their lives, Bea and her family now only throw away enough trash in one year to fill up a single 1.5 liter Le Parfait jar. Amazing. Fascinated by this and the idea of being so waste-free, I read more of her blog posts and tried to take some of her ideas and use them in my quest to reduce my own carbon footprint. For example, I try to remember my cloth grocery and produce bags every time I go to the store, I typically use the Durango T to get downtown and I take the time to make sure my recyclables are clean and on the list of acceptable items for the city of Durango. It is quite difficult to become completely zero waste as a college student but any small changes can make a big difference, thus I am providing a list of a few tips that are simple and easy to apply to college life.

  • Refuse what you do not need. Refuse buying bottled water if your tap water is clean and safe to drink. Refuse freebie items handed out at fairs, events and even in the student union to avoid creating the demand to make more and accumulating junk you don’t need.
  • Reduce what you do need. Donate rarely used items to local thrift shops or the FLC Free Store to de-clutter your home. The Free Store is open every Thursday in the Student Union from 9-11 a.m.; donations are welcome and appreciated.
  • Reuse by using reusables. Taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store, bringing your own thermos to the coffee shop and using a refillable water bottle all easily prevent a great amount of waste from accumulating in landfills.
  • Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. With single stream recycling now in Durango, recycling is easier than ever! However, be sure to know how to properly recycle everything because if recycling on campus gets too contaminated, it gets sent to the landfill! The guidelines for Durango recycling can be found here: http://www.durangogov.org/DocumentCenter/View/589 .
  • Rot (compost) the rest. Create a composting system that works for your home and lifestyle. The on-campus dining hall composts food waste but if you live off campus, look into composting your food waste. Composting is made easy here: http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/green-living/how-to-compost-00000000021888/index.html.

For more information on zero waste living and the Johnson family, visit the Zero Waste Home blog at http://www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com.

 

– Emma Kurfis